In our Ask A Vet series, Pawp interviews Dr. Laura Robinson on Instagram Live about telemedicine and Pawp's 24/7 Clinic. The questions we asked came from the Facebook group Ask A Vet. If you’d like a vet to answer any of your pet-related questions, join the group and post, or tune into the Instagram Live on Mondays at 1 pm ET. This interview with Laura Robinson, DVM has been transcribed and edited for length and clarity.
So, it's a really big day today because Pawp has just launched its new feature: 24/7 unlimited access so you can chat with a vet any time for any questions, big or small. This could be a panic situation — like when you're not sure you should bring your dog to the emergency room, or even for the little random questions that pile up throughout the day. This is just a great way to accompany you in your day-to-day life as a pet parent.
I'm really excited for you guys to be starting this. I think it's a great idea, especially the timing is really great with all the pandemic stuff. I know a lot of people are super hesitant to go into the vet right now and I've even experienced that myself. We're not doing too much telemedicine but I am doing more than I ever have just because I'm trying to limit the amount of people coming in if they don't absolutely have to.
"I'm really excited for you guys to be starting this. A lot of people are super hesitant to go into the vet right now. [Telemedicine is] definitely something people should take advantage of... especially if you're newer to getting a dog or a cat, there are so many random questions."
But I have noticed I'm getting a lot more messages that I have to call people back because people are just trying not to come in. So, if it's a simple question I try to either answer it really quick and have my receptionist call them or try to find time during the day. But usually, it's going to take a day to get back to people unless it's an emergency.
I think it's really important right now and definitely something people should take advantage of. And I think especially if you're newer to getting a dog or a cat, there are so many random questions. I'm in my late 20s so a lot of my friends are getting pets for the first time. I get so many random questions each day. Like, "Cece wants to sleep all day long. Is that normal?" Or, "He's breathing funny." And then sent me a video and I'm like, "They're dreaming totally normal." So, I think it's a big field and I think it's definitely important, especially right now.
You don't even have to get your Bachelor's degree, really, to be a vet. You just have to do your pre-reqs in college and then you get into vet school. And as long as you graduate and pass your boards, which usually you have to take a national board that every vet in the United States has to take, called the NAVLE. You have to pass that and you also have to pass your state boards. That's usually another test. The state one is like an eight-hour long test, all multiple choice, and then your state one varies. My California is multiple choice but I know other ones are write-in questions and essays and stuff like that.
That makes you a licensed veterinarian. And then to become a board certified vet or something like that, that's additional internship and residency, so you're a board certified neurologist or board certified cardiologist. And so, you're selecting your specialty. There's also just board certified large animal vet, so it's one step further to become more specialized in a specific field.
There's so much information online, a lot of it all over the place. I think the area I see that the most is with diets because there's so much conflicting information — from raw food to freeze dried to kibble — and everyone reads something different and there are so many different sites you can go to online that will give you different information. Anything you want to find, you can find someone who supports that idea so you really have to do your research.
I always say it's best to talk to your vet about that. So, diet would be a perfect example of something telemedicine could really, really help with. I obviously don't have to see the pet to recommend one thing or another. And especially with all the pandemic stuff right now... And even human medicine, too.
My cousin is a human psychiatrist and they're doing a lot more telemedicine. And there's an urgent care right next to my clinic and they're telemedicine. I think right now it's becoming a lot bigger field and I know a lot of companies offering Zoom physical exams and if it's a little skin issue, you can prescribe antibiotics to or something like that. My clinic's not doing a ton of that, but I do think especially with so many millennials getting pets who are a lot more computer literate that we're going to see a big uptick in it in the next couple years. So, it's definitely a growing field for sure.
Anxiety is something telemedicine can really help with because you can just be in the comfort of your home and chat with the vet or video call so that your dog doesn't actually have to go over to the vet. I know that some dogs even squirm passing by the vet, even if they're not going in directly.
We try to obviously ease the anxiety as much as possible. But it's inevitable in most cases because there are so many smells and different animals making noises that it is, I think an anxiety-producing experience for sure. I even bring my own dog some days that I work and she just beelines to my office and will not come out of the office. You have to force her out because she knows if she comes in the treatment area that she'll get her nails trimmed or something like that. She even gets anxiety at the vet and I'm there with her, so I definitely think that it can be be a super anxious anxiety thing, especially for cats, too. They get super stressed out out at the vet. So, yeah, telemedicine is an awesome way to avoid that situation for sure.
There are even instances sometimes where dogs and cats will come in and we actually have to even sedate them a little bit to try to get them to calm down enough for us to even look at them. And a lot of times we'll muzzle dogs and cats so we don't get bit, too. And it's not their fault. Most of the time, it's just a fear response. It's not like they're naturally aggressive. But it definitely is an anxious thing for them, so telemedicine would be awesome for that.
If we have to use sedation or anything that I mentioned, usually one of those injections would be like $50, so that's an extra amount on top of everything else that you're paying for. Sometimes we'll even prescribe meds to give before you come in so they're already less anxious before they come in. So, that can make it more expensive, too. And obviously it varies state by state a little bit with prices.
You think more of the expensive states goes along with how expensive everything is. I think California is one of them and Hawaii and DC and New York are really expensive places, so I think the average on vets that you're going to spend per year is about $1400 to $1500 per year on your pet versus if you're in the Midwest like Arkansas or something like that, you're looking at probably like $700-$800 per year. Yeah, everything goes along with the prices of that state, so if you live in a more pricey state your vet visits are going to, unfortunately, be a little bit more.
Generally, you should have your annual exam every year, so that's a planned visit for sure. But unplanned visits are definitely a lot pricier, especially... Sometimes if we have an open spot we'll squeeze them in at our place for no extra cost, but we have had cases... In the past couple weeks we've had rattlesnake bites and stuff like that where if they're an emergency exam, it can be double that. And if you're going to an after hours clinic that only does emergency and you're showing up because your dog ate a toxin or something like that, just for the exam usually is like $150 and that's not including anything else. If it's an unplanned visit, an emergency situation where you're at their mercy as far as the things they're recommending, you have to do it to save your pet, probably going to be up to a grand for that visit.
It's really expensive. It can be really pricey when it's unexpected. And unfortunately, that happens a lot of times, especially with new pet parents because kittens and puppies just seem to want to get into everything, so probably going to be really pricey your first year, especially. You're also paying for them to be spayed or neutered, so that's an additional $500 you're going to spend on the first year. All their vaccines. So, that first year or two is one of the pricier times of their life.
Just as you said before, there are people walking in like, "My dog is sleeping too much." Or I know you mentioned on one of these Lives that somebody came in asking you if it was okay that one of his eyes was more crooked than the other. These emergency vet visits can be very expensive and a lot of the questions don't really warrant a consultation. It can be very hard to determine what an emergency is, especially as a new pet parent.
For instance, chocolate, that can vary so much. That's more of an emergency thing. And people think, "Oh, they ate one Hershey kiss!" They're freaking out. Because it's hard to estimate the toxicity level and there's such a wide range for that. And if you have a big dog and they ate a tiny bit of chocolate, they're going to be totally fine, versus if you have a little Chihuahua and they ate a whole gallon of chocolate ice cream or something like that. That's more of an emergency thing. A lot of times that can be avoided by calling into your vet or using telemedicine to give the vets more information on how much they weigh, how much chocolate do you think they ate? And there's a lot... It varies. Dark chocolate is a little more toxic than regular.
"Emergency vet visits can be very expensive and a lot of the questions don't really warrant a consultation. It can be very hard to determine what an emergency is, especially as a new pet parent."
Or they chewed on some weird... Like your cat chewing on some weird plant in your house. Lilies are pretty toxic to cats but other plants are totally fine, so that would be a great thing. You could just quickly use the Pawp Clinic to text a vet before going down and spending, like I said, up to a couple hundred dollars on something that might not be totally necessary.
It's also really difficult because there are some websites that will tell you, "Oh, it's okay in small doses," but what does that really mean? Coming back to what we were talking about before, it's really not like a one size fits all. If it's a Chihuahua or if it's a lab or depending on the size and the breed and a various number of different attributes makes that answer extremely different. So, it's really difficult to find that stuff online for sure.
It's always good to double check information with a professional, especially when it comes to your pet's health. Good articles will involve studies and and vet quotes that will demonstrate they've done the research. But, again, what's true for one pet is not necessarily true for another. That's why Pawp's personalized care is a unique way to get answers fast.
This feature records all the information that you give us and all the previous conversations so that you can pick it up where you left off and you create that same relationship with the vets that we have on Pawp as you would with your primary caretaker. You don't have to repeat everything every single time about what happened previously and they just follow-up with you, which is a great way to go on with things.
"I think that's such an awesome thing to sign up for. I think the investment is definitely worth it. It can save you spending up to a grand on non-necessary visits to the vet. There's so many things that we could tell someone to check at home. I would definitely say everyone should sign up for it. It's a wonderful idea."
If I was a new pet parent and obviously didn't have the knowledge that I do, I think that's such an awesome thing to sign up for. I think the investment is definitely worth it. It can save you spending up to a grand on non-necessary visits to the vet. There's so many things that we could tell someone to check at home. Take your pet's temperature at home if you needed to. You can look at their gum color, check their hydration level; all things that we can guide you through to look for and that kind of thing. I think a lot could be avoided and I think that's really awesome that you guys are doing that. And I would definitely say everyone should sign up for it. It's a wonderful idea.